Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Locking Up Darnell Nurse Long Term

Hello Nation,

Hi. How are you? It’s near the end of 2019, and I hope you’re all okay. The last few years have been pretty effed up. They’ve been pretty hard on everyone, so even though it’s easier said than done, stay strong. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, through the Twitter fights and Facebook comments, we’re in all of this shit together.

So let’s argue about some more, shall we?

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Even though it isn’t even the new year yet, it seems like it’s signing season for the Edmonton Oilers. Already we’re hearing that negotiations have opened up between management and talent for new contracts, notably for players Zack Kassian, Ethan Bear, and, for the purposes of this article, Darnell Nurse.

Oct 22, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) during a game between the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

2014/15 2 31:43 56.36 52.94 33.33 40.74 43.48 20.00
2015/16 69 1190:51 45.67 45.57 41.67 43.96 41.75 39.22
2016/17 44 674:22 51.05 50.70 50.00 51.38 50.36 47.22
2017/18 82 1548:57 51.11 51.22 55.20 52.47 50.90 49.28
2018/19 82 1556:22 46.28 46.54 46.32 46.05 43.48 44.05
2019/20 37 682:39 49.96 51.68 45.95 50.64 54.44 51.35

I actually wrote back in September about what Nurse’s next contract might look like, but two factors have changed that pre-season outlook: 1) the 2019-20 season is now underway, and 2) a couple more contracts have been signed that slid closer to what Nurse’s closest comparable might be.

Nurse is having an alright season so far in 2019-20. He’s on pace for ~37 points, a dip from last season’s output, and his most frequent partner is Ethan Bear, a rookie who surprisingly made the team out of camp.

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So how has the landscape changed since the slew of RFA signings at the start of the season? In my last piece, I had used the contracts of Zach Werenski, Jared Spurgeon, and Charlie McAvoy as comparables, but considering the most recent signings, those contracts no longer seem relevant.

So let’s look the ones that still are.

Thomas Chabot

Dec 9, 2019; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot (72) skates with the puck in front of Boston Bruins left wing Anders Bjork (10) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre.

8 years, $8mil Cap Hit (Age: 22)

5v5 Counts

2016/17 1 7:09 45.00 22.22 0.00 42.58 50.00
2017/18 63 926:09 48.72 47.79 43.96 47.51 50.61 44.19
2018/19 70 1376:52 48.08 49.11 48.45 50.48 51.13 54.74
2019/20 35 711:25 50.00 51.95 49.18 53.96 55.69 58.82

Though I’m including him here, I hardly think Chabot is a proper comparable to Nurse. Firstly, he’s three years younger, so his contract swallows fewer UFA years, and secondly, he’s simply much better than Nurse was at his age. Last season, Chabot played his second full season in the NHL, where he recorded 55 points on an Ottawa Senators team that, by the time the trade deadline passed, was stripped for parts was hurling towards the bottom of the NHL standings.

This season, Cabot’s on pace for 49 points, a slight regression from last season, but is outpacing Nurse’s projection by 12 points. He leads the Senators with 3:32 PP TOI/GM– and in powerplay points with 6– and his 5v5 possession numbers just blow Nurse’s out of the water in every category.

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But most obviously, Chabot is cornerstone defenseman, one who is on a career trajectory to be in the Norris Trophy conversation sooner rather than later. All his contract has done is set the high threshold for Nurse’s contract to fall under.

Jacob Trouba

December 14, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) shoots on goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center.

8 years, $8mil Cap Hit (Age: 25)

5v5 Counts

2013/14 65 1073:31 48.96 47.81 48.00 48.69 48.46 45.61
2014/15 65 1095:52 54.69 53.09 48.53 53.56 54.32 51.28
2015/16 81 1393:45 51.77 54.71 54.46 54.11 54.55 48.44
2016/17 60 1159:04 49.95 51.84 49.02 50.51 51.97 46.67
2017/18 55 936:15 51.10 53.04 55.06 52.54 53.97 53.49
2018/19 82 1434:13 50.02 49.64 50.00 48.87 48.10 52.70
2019/20 33 561:55 44.46 42.52 48.00 44.17 46.29 56.00

This is the deal that’s likely shifted this entire negotiation in Nurse’s favour. Trouba and Nurse are closest in age and career totals, so the new New York Rangers defenseman’s new deal has set a new bar for Nurse’s camp to negotiate towards.

But, Trouba has struggled so far with his new team; he’s on pace 30 points, his lowest total in five seasons, and the team overall is performing below expectations, so this contract is already looking questionable.

However, all this does is favour Nurse’s camp as he’s on pace for a better season, and is commanding more 5v5 minutes.

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Frankly, this is the contract that threw a grenade at the league and set a new standard for negotiation.

Ivan Provorov

Nov 25, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov (9) skates with the puck as Vancouver Canucks right wing Brock Boeser (6) defends during the first period at Wells Fargo Center.

6 years, $6.75mil Cap Hit (Age: 22)

5v5 Counts

2016/17 82 1357:19 49.23 47.42 44.44 48.26 47.80 47.62
2017/18 82 1501:40 49.37 47.96 54.62 48.38 48.66 50.77
2018/19 82 1599:31 47.58 49.08 45.57 49.08 50.96 51.95
2019/20 34 605:46 52.83 54.35 52.83 53.24 54.95 64.52

This is what I wrote about Provorov’s deal back in September:

This is an intriguing one. Like Werenski, Provorov is almost three years younger than Nurse. But, unlike the Blue Jackets’s defensemen, the young Russian defenseman signed a deal that’s twice the length in term, eating into the first years of his UFA status. Provorov’s best asset over his young NHL career has been his health, as he’s yet to miss a game, but his point totals have been a bit volatile.

Like Morrissey, he led the Philadelphia Flyers in PK TOI, averaging 2:54/GM, a team PK that finished 26th in the NHL last season at 78.5%, so not a great sign. He also averaged 1:33/GM in PP TOI, which ranked ninth on the team, so that might have been a contributing factor to his lower point total.

I don’t believe Provorov and his contract are accurate comparables anymore, since the Trouba deal likely bumps this one out as the second comparable to go along with Morrissey’s (we’ll get to him next). The Flyers are a much better team so far this season, and Provorov is once again leading the Flyers in SH TOI with a 2:33 average, while also on pace for his best offensive season yet with 50+ points. If anything, he’s already being underpaid.

Josh Morrissey

Dec 13, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) chases Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) in the third period at Bell MTS Place.

8 years, $6.25mil Cap Hit (Age: 24)

5v5 Counts

2015/16 1 15:31 42.86 45.45 15.56 28.57
2016/17 82 1423:10 51.05 49.57 49.22 51.09 51.10 51.52
2017/18 81 1364:09 51.37 53.70 53.33 52.97 53.88 55.74
2018/19 59 989:51 51.22 49.49 51.65 50.43 49.01 50.00
2019/20 32 586:34 45.76 44.81 52.63 40.68 36.04 50.00

Morrissey likely still remains as one of, if not the, main comparable for Nurse. The two d-men are the same age, have roughly the same career stats and projections. However, so far this season, Morrissey is on pace for 48 points, which would be a new career high, while Nurse is projecting hit 37 points.

Morrissey’s also averaging 1:01 SH TOI/GM for the Jets, making him the sixth most-used defenseman on the penalty kill– behind Nathan Beaulieu (2:24), Anthony Bitetto (1:53), Luca Sbisa (1:52), Neal Pionk (1:29), and Dmitry Kulikov (1:28)– but is averaging 2:34 PP TOI/GM, trailing Pionk by only 2 seconds as the most used defenseman with the man advantage. Nurse is the third-most utilized defenseman on the PK– behind Oscar Klefbom (2:56) and Kris Russell (2:46)– averaging 2:04 SH TOI/GM and :51 PP TOI/Gm.

Final Thought

I had said back in September that the ideal contract for Nurse would’ve been 8 years, $52mil ($6.5 cap hit), using Morrissey and Provorov as his comparables.

To me– a lowly blogger– this still seems reasonable. But, frankly, one thing that has to be broached is the Ethan Bear factor. This isn’t to suggest that Nurse being paired with a rookie for the vast majority of this season has had an effect on his totals, but more that the two actually compliment one another.

These are their 5v5 counts with-and-without one another:

Nurse-Bear 570:03 51.16 53.68 44.62 51.15 55.90 46.88 .884
Bear w/o Nurse 81:00 45.39 52.63 37.50 54.79 57.14 0.00 .878
Nurse w/o Bear 112:36 44.25 41.96 55.56 48.15 46.34 80.00 .946

Nurse noticeably struggles offensively without Bear, which is a huge nod in the rookie defensemen’s favour, but both clearly also excel playing together. So whatever logic goes into negotiating Nurse’s possible extension might levied with his comparables and what he bring to the Oilers playing with Bear. But Nurse brings a level of snarl to his game that every team dreams for come a playoff run. So, what will he likely command?

8 years, $58mil ($7.25mil Cap Hit)

This is what I imagine what might be the asking price from Nurse’s camp. It seems pricey– particularly when factoring in the need for extensions for Bear this summer and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins next– but right now, this is what the market dictates what Nurse is worth. It’s way higher than what the Oilers might’ve been looking at paying back in the summer, but that’s what happens when these sorts of negotiations get left to drag out into the season.

Is it too rich for the Oilers’ blood?

Personally, I think that it is, but what way you, Nation?

Traditional Stats courtesy of nhl.com | Advanced counts courtesy of naturalstattrick.com | Salary Cap info courtesy of puckpedia.com |